What Cape Breton lacks in size, it makes up for in character.
The island is easily accessible from most major cities in Canada, and increasingly from the northeastern United States. And although the natural beauty, national parks, fine dining, and warm hospitality has always been there, it’s a destination whose worldly profile has increased in the last two years thanks in large part to the tremendous golf destination – Cabot Links.
Cabot has two courses, (the aforementioned Links course and now, the famed Cliffs course), a quaint lodge, and three restaurant options (plus a coffee shop on the main street of the town, Inverness. Another course is set to be in the works, along with expanded lodging and even a spa. It is, very quickly, becoming one of Canada’s must-visit golfing destinations, and major golf publications named Cabot Cliffs the ‘Best New Course in the World’ in 2015.
In early 2015, I wrote a story for the Globe & Mail about the town of Inverness, N.S. where Cabot is located. I spoke to head golf professional Ryan Hawley, who provided insight on what now makes Inverness (he admits it used to be on the ‘forgotten’ side of Cape Breton Island) so special:
“’The golf course is the attraction, but once they get here, they see Cape Breton has it all,’ he says. ‘It’s bringing so much to Inverness and the surrounding areas and Cape Breton Island itself. The opportunities it’s bringing — the opportunities to bring people back home to work – it’s just something we never had before.’
People are saying ‘hello’ again to what was once just a goodbye town. And that’s all thanks to Cabot.”
But even for non-golfers, Cape Breton offers a plethora of attractions that will pique the interests of all travellers.
Golf aside, Cape Breton is amazing for those who love the outdoors. With cliff-side hike options and plenty of national parks and trails, it would be a shame not to take advantage of them. Carve out an afternoon (even a whole day!) and breathe in the ocean air. When we visited, we watched the sun rise over the Atlantic and traversed the Middle Head Trail. It started at the Keltic Lodge Resort & Spa and is about four kilometers in length. At its conclusion, it opens to vast ocean panoramas.
One of the most famous hikes of them all, though, is the Skyline Trail. At 10 kilometres in length, it’s not for the faint of heart, but the views are worth it, along with the opportunity to see a ton of wildlife, including whales.
Raising a Glass
Besides Alexander Keith and the beer that bears his name, Cape Breton is also home to Canada’s (and North America’s) first single-malt whisky at the Glenora Distillery. The beautiful property is also host to a quaint inn and excellent dining room where the libations liberally flow. Tours of the distillery happen every 25 minutes (with samples included!) and it’s only 20 minutes from Cabot Links.
Fewer than 10 minutes down the road in nearby Mabou is the Red Shoe Pub. Bought by the legendary Rankin family in 2005, the Red Shoe Pub features a homey menu and an extensive drink list with local craft beers and cocktails. Between the live music and the cozy vibe, the Red Shoe Pub is not to be missed.
What can we say? Nova Scotia is home to great seafood and any time you order it in Cape Breton, you will not be disappointed. From the aforementioned menu at the Red Shoe Pub (Fish & Chips with fresh haddock and a Red Shoe Ale beer batter, plus scallops and salmon), to the three restaurants on site at Cabot Links – “we’ve had journalists come here not even to write about the golf, but just about the seafood chowder,” Hawley said – there is no shortage of excellent dining selections.